Home General Memories The Naming Of Melbourne — An Item Of Victorian History

The Naming Of Melbourne — An Item Of Victorian History

Sir Richard Bourke Author / Creator Jackson, Arthur Levett, 1834-1888, artist.

The sequence of events that lead to the naming of the great city of Melbourne in 1837 by then Governor of New South Wales, Major-General Sir Richard Bourke was published in “The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic.: 1873 – 1889)” on Tuesday 21 Sep 1886. The reporter interviewed Mr. Thomas Russell, who worked as a Railway Gate Keeper in Geelong, who came to Melbourne in Sir Richard Bourke’s retinue, and witnessed all the ceremonies which took place during the visit.  Here it goes.

On March 4, 1837, Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales, visited the settlement –on the Yarra River, founded by Fawkner and Batman in 1835. Port Phillip was then part of New South Wales. During that visit His Excellency gave the name of Melbourne to the settlement, approved formally of the plan of the town, and named its principal streets. In a few months, consequently, the jubilee of the baptism of Melbourne can be celebrated. A few days ago I had a conversation with Mr. Thomas Russell, of Geelong. gatekeeper, who arrived here in Sir Richard Bourke’s retinue, and witnessed all the ceremonies which took place during the visit.

Artist Robert Russel, Created on 1837. Melbourne Identification of buildings inscribed on drawing: London Hotel Fawkners hotel, D’arcy’s House, Orrs Buildings, Webbs House. Image Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

Mr. Russell’s position is surely a unique one. He probably saw Melbourne before any other man now living gazed upon it. He witnessed the formal recognition of the settlement He stood, a young man, on the banks of the Yarra before the first baptism of a child in Melbourne. Since then metropolitan cemeteries have been filled with the silent dead, and abandoned, and a cry was long ago raised for the establishment of a larger and more distant one than the newest. Mr. Russell, however, still lives, a hale, hearty old man, with a good memory, wonderfully active for his years, the father of a large family, of which he is proud, with bright eyes that have been looking on this world for 73 years, cheerful and contented. He has celebrated his golden wedding, and the honeymoon has not come to an end. Whether he is the oldest colonist or not, he is certainly the oldest railway employee in Victoria, both as regards age and length of service. For 30 years he has been gatekeeper at one and the same level crossing, and he has never been the cause of, out has prevented accidents. Subjoined are some of his reminiscences.

View from Batman’s Hill looking westward, from an original sketch taken in 1836 or beginning of 1837. Artist Robert Russel. Image Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

Sir Richard Bourke, as has been said, visited this portion of the colony of which he was Governor in March 1837. He arrived in H.M. ship Rattlesnake, Captain Hobson, R.N., and was accompanied by Captain Hunter, military secretary; Mr. G. K. Holden, his private secretary ; Captain P. P. King, his travelling companion, the son of Governor King ; and Mr. Robert Hoddle, surveyor. Mr. Russell, a native of Kent, England, was His Excellency’s coachman, haying entered his service in the old country and arrived here with him in 1831. The settlement was two years old in 1837.

Back of Capt. Lonsdale’s old house from sketch Sep 3, 1877- Sep 4 1877. Shows group of buildings with picket fence, the new Government House in the distance. William Lonsdale was Chief Magistrate of the new Port Phillip settlement, until the arrival of the first governor. Image Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

In 1836 the northern and western interior had been explored by Mitchell, and named by him ‘Australia Felix,’ and in October of that year Captain Lonsdale, the earliest local authority, had arrived from Sydney as police magistrate. Although Port Phillip was an appanage of New South Wales, it was at that time being settled by Tasmanians, who, during 1836 and 1837, were pouring into it with stock. Mr. Russell states that it was partly in consequence of a rumour that Tasmania was going to claim Port Phillip that the Governor of New South Wales decided to pay the place a visit Captain Hobson, with the Rattle snake, had been in Port Phillip Bay before, namely, in 1836, when he brought Captain Lonsdale and surveyed the inlet subsequently called after him. The vice-regal party also comprised a bodyguard of soldiers, and His Excellency brought four horses with him. The party came up the river to the falls — where the Falls-bridge was subsequently erected — in boats. In order to land the horses, the riverbank had to be cut down.

On entering the Heads, according to Mr. ‘Russell. His Excellency named Shortland’s Bluff (now Queenscliff) after the first lieutenant of the Rattlesnake. He also states that Hobson’s Bay was so named by the Governor, after the captain of the Rattlesnake, on the day the vessel arrived there. I have seen it stated that it was not until April 10, 1837, that the bay got its name. The discrepancy may be accounted for, perhaps, by the fact -that it was not until the latter date that the bay was officially named.

Melbourne Founded by Sir Richard Bourke 1837 Melbourne from the Falls, June 30, 1837
Author / Creator
Russell, Robert 1808-1900 artist.

Captain Lonsdale received the Governor, and the party pitched their tents on Batman’s-hill, at the west end of Bourke-street Mr. Russell subsequently built some cottages at Geelong, in the immediate vicinity of the railway crossing of which he has had charge so long, and which is now sometimes called Russell’s crossing, and sometimes the Waterloo-street crossing. These cottages he built in positions corresponding to those of the tents of Governor Bourke’s party. The cottages are still standing. The colonists also gave the Governor a reception and presented an address, in which they urged the importance of fixing the sites of the towns. In his reply Sir Richard expressed sanguine hopes as to the future of the settlement. In coming up to the bay on exciting incident occurred. A schooner was observed, and Captain Hobson signalled to her to lay-to.; It was, suspected that she might be engaged in smuggling. The signal was disregarded, whereupon Captain Hobson ordered Lieutenant Shortland to “fire a blank.” This hint was also neglected. The captain’s next order was: — ‘ Load with shot and fire across her bows; if she does not immediately lay-to, then fire a shot into her.’ The splash of the shot ahead of him, however, brought the captain of the schooner to his senses, and be checked the motion of his vessel, of which the Hon. Mr. Henry, the third lieutenant of the Rattlesnake, was at once put in charge, with directions to keep her close to the man-of-war, and send her captain to have an interview with Captain Hobson. It was a stormy interview, Captain Hobson threatening to place the’ other commander in irons and ordering that duty should be paid on everything dutiable.

Sir Richard Bourke
Author / Creator
Jackson, Arthur Levett, 1834-1888, artist.

On the night of their arrival at Melbourne, Mr. Russell and five other of the servants, having discovered that drinks were obtainable at a wattle and dab hut in the vicinity of the tents, went there, and were ushered by the host, – Mr. J. P. Fawkner, into the parlour, which the party filled.’ Brandies round ‘ were ordered, and Mr. Russell tendered a £1 Sydney note. Mr. Fawkner counted the party, pocketed the note, and said ‘ Six threes is 18s., and 2s. discount for a Sydney note; that is right, gentlemen.’ Mr. Russell had some reason to remember his first ‘ shout ‘ in Port Phillip. Another member of the party bought a bottle of brandy from Mr.Fawkner’ for 15s., and, tendering a sovereign, got 5s. back as change. About 2 o’clock on the fifth morning after their arrival a severe shock of earthquake was felt. Most of the party had never had such an experience before and ran out of their tents. Russell remembers seeing the Governor peep out from his tent, and hearing him say it was an earthquake. Later in the day a party came up from the Rattlesnake, lying in Hobson’s Bay, and reported that there had been a great commotion in the waters, and the vessel had drifted more than 100 yards. The shock led the Governor to express doubts as to whether it would be safe to build a town here, as earthquakes were then causing much apprehension in New Zealand. No repetition of the shock occurred, however. About March 26 the Governor started for a trip into the interior and on to Geelong. Russell was one of the parties, which was under the guidance of William Buckley, ‘the wild white man.’ Buckley had had an extraordinary career. Originally a mason, he became a soldier of the 4th Regiment, and was transported for life for receiving stolen property, He had served with his regiment in Holland, where he had been wounded in the right hand. He was one of the convicts brought out in the H.M.S. Calcutta in 1803, when Lieutenant-Governor Collins attempted to form a settlement at Port Phillip Heads. In December of that year four of the convicts, Buckley, Marinon, Pye, and Gibson, escaped. The last-named, however, returned to the camp next month in a very exhausted state. In 1804 the attempt to form a settlement here was abandoned, and Collins’s party left for Tasmania.

Melbourne in 1838

The fate of Pye and Marinon has never been definitely ascertained. Buckley stated subsequently that they left him, and either perished from hunger or were killed by the natives. But he gave different accounts of their fate, and suspicions were entertained that he had been driven to cannibalism by hunger. Russell, who saw a good deal of him, entertains that opinion.

Governor Bourke’s party went first to Mount Macedon. Captain Hobson was a member of it, but, being taken ill, Russell went back with him to Melbourne, and afterwards caught the party up. They ascended the mountain, which had been previously ascended and named by Major Mitchell in 1836. The native name of the hill was Geboor, and it is a pity that such a conspicuous landmark was not so designated permanently. The flag-post erected by Major Mitchell on the mount was seen by Governor Bourke’s party, who also found the names of several members of Major Mitchell’s party engraved upon a stone. Russell and others added their names, and he saw the inscriptions there about 32 years ago. Sir Richard Bourke then struck across the country towards Geelong, passing through Bacchus Marsh. They met Messrs. J. T. Gellibrand and Hesse. Both these gentlemen were lawyers, of Tasmania, who had taken up land in Port Phillip. They were subsequently lost in the Cape Otway Ranges while endeavouring to get to their stations in the Western district from Geelong. It is supposed that they were killed by the natives. Sometime after a skeleton was discovered and identified as that of Mr. Gellibrand from the fact of one of the teeth being filled with gold.

On arriving at Geelong, the Governor’s party, pitched their tents on the Barwon, at what is now known as South Geelong. They found very few people there. Dr. Clarke was building a hut, and “Jock Mack” was putting up a boarding-house, which subsequently developed into Mack’s Hotel.

Part of the original structure is still standing, as is also Dr. Clarke’s old hut. Subsequently Dr. Clarke went to England, where he died. The Governor named this settlement Geelong, after the native name of the hill on which it stands. Previously it was known, Russell states, as Corio, which was the aboriginal appellation of the bay, and means “big water.” Point Henry was named after Lieutenant Henry, of the Rattlesnake, already referred to. Buckley had mustered a great number of natives, and blankets, smock frocks, and trousers were distributed amongst them. Russell recollects that they had great fun when pinning the blankets round the necks of the dark beauties and watching the antics of the blackfellows. The Governor was delighted with the beauties of Geelong, and, according to Russell, he wished to make it the capital. His Excellency argued that it would cost less to cut through the bar in Corio Bay than to make the Yarra navigable ; that there was abundant room for a large population on the shores overlooking Corio Bay; that Geelong was charmingly situated from a picturesque point of view, and, moreover, that the lie of the land was admirably adapted for a large settlement.

On the return of the party to Melbourne, Mr. Hoddle, who had been left behind to attend to his professional duties, exhibited his plan of the town. He had also marked out Williamstown, which was named after the reigning Sovereign. A meeting was held, at which the Governor presided, and there were present Captains Hobson and Lonsdale, Lieutenants Shortland and Henry,

Mr Hoddle, and Messrs. Fawkner and Batman. At this meeting the question of the relative advantages of the sites of Geelong and Melbourne was fully discussed. Fawkner and Batman, of course, were decidedly in favour of Melbourne. Mr. Hoddle had not been to Geelong. Governor Bourke gave way to the majority, and Russell heard him declare the Yarra settlement to be the capital of Port Phillip, and name it Melbourne, after the then Prime Minister. The party then walked through the thoroughfares laid out by Mr. Hoddle and named them. At several places the Governor, in naming the street, turned, over a sod. Russell especially recollects him doing that at the west end of Collins-street, on Batman’s hill. Each of the leading members of the party named a street. Queen street was so named by Captain Hobson. In conclusion, it may be stated that Governor Bourke returned to Sydney and left there for England towards the end of 1837. Russell decided to remain in Australia and settled at Geelong in 1848 as a horse-dealer. In 1849 he bought the half acre of land on which his cottages are situate for £40 from Mr. G. F. Reid, jun. In 1852 he was offered £3,000 for the property. It is now worth about £6.000. lie has seen the “ups and downs” of Geelong. The construction of the Geelong and Melbourne railway was begun by a private company in 1853, and Russell went into the service of the company in 1856 as gatekeeper at “Russell’s crossing.” When the Government bought the railway, Russell was transferred with the undertaking, and, as already stated, he still holds his original position as gatekeeper.



“THE NAMING OF MELBOURNE. — AN ITEM OF VICTORIAN HISTORY “published in “The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic.: 1873 – 1889)” on Tuesday 21 Sep 1886. Accessed through Trove on 31st January 2020

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